I’ve waited a while to post this. To protect the guilty I suppose, but even so – I think the issue needs raising. Perhaps even debating: my views might be wrong – who knows?

IPD’s? Innovation prevention departments: a term coined by a colleague in Scotland. What are they, why do they exist and how do they function?

Well, all institutions need someone, often a large team of someones, to look after their various networks and their technological kit. This, in many cases (but before you shout at me – not all, by any means) is the IPD.

These are the girls and boys who make sure the bulb in your projector is working. They ensure that your Interactive Whiteboard is aligned with the projector and that the PC running both is connected to both. They install the necessary software and keep it updated (they even ensure that all necessary plug-ins are installed and updated). Don’t they?

These are the people that make sure no one can get onto the institution’s ‘systems’ without a proper security clearance, but who also ensure that learners and visitors can easily access the internet from the institution’s premises. Don’t they?

They work with learning and teaching professionals, and management to decide which, if any, web sites should be banned or black listed following carefully considered reasoning. Often, when asked they move certain sites for certain courses onto course specific white lists. Don’t they?

Well – no: not all. Not by any means! In many establishments, several of which I have visited over recent weeks, getting onto the Internet is nigh on impossible unless you work or study there. As a visitor, an invited visitor at that, it is often a real chore to deliver the work I’m invited to deliver. Whilst I’ve yet to hear ‘not on your nellie’ I have had many similar responses when asking for access to the Internet via an institutional network. Let me clarify that – I don’t want to go onto the network itself, just to use it to access the Internet. Now – I can hear the clatter of keyboards rushing to tell me that the security of blah blah blah, is their role and to let me onto their blah blah blah is a breach of that security but surely – having someone in the room log me into ‘their’ (the staff member’s) little bit of the college network is far more dangerous. Yet it happens all the time.

Why can’t these unenlightened IPD professionals realise that all I (and others like me) want is Internet access? Like I would get in Starbucks (I think Mick Mullane, who is a [learner orientated] techie and who advocates this progressive sort of approach, calls it the Starbucks approach). I would have to log in of course, but the login I’m given would not allow me onto the institutional network, only the Internet (and by logging in I would be deemed to have accepted the institutional AUP). What’s hard about that?

Then – what about the bulb in the projector? Do these ever get changed? Several places I’ve visited lately don’t seem to have changed the bulb (or cleaned the lens) at all: ever. This leads to an unsatisfactory learning experience. One recently, was so bad that we had to borrow another projector and project that on the ceiling to get anything like a clear image. That was partly because the blinds on the sunshine side of the building didn’t function well – meaning that the poor bulb had to struggle even more in the (in other circumstances, welcome) daylight. [This would of course be a lack of communication between ‘estates’ and ‘IPD’ – but I won’t go there] Bulbs cost money I know – but so do disengaged learners that leave the course. And don’t get me started on disengaged teachers who have to put up with it every day.

So may I pose a few questions to the IPD (I’ll provide my own answers but welcome others)

What’s your role? To support the business of the institution.

What’s the business of the institution? Teaching and learning.

Who is at the core of teaching and learning? Teachers and Learners?

What’s your role?

Part two – software, updates and web sites – maybe coming soon …


8 Responses to “IPDs”

  1. Censorship « EduVel Says:

    […] are quite often responsible for decisions about web access which affect the entire institution. See https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/ipds/ and https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/ipd-2/. I recently came across another mindless piece of […]

  2. ‘Virtual’ – an environment for learning? « EduVel Says:

    […] his keen and forward looking developments, he continues to be thwarted by the institutional IPD (https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/ipds/) and (https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/ipd-2/) which is sad, given that he (Steve) has a fine […]

  3. colhawksworth Says:

    WordPress just ate my posting again! it must be an IPD!!!

    Our college has high-spec .11n campus-wide WiFi, which is split onto two channels. We have a secure level, which carries all our mobile devices; laptops, netbooks, smartphones, etc.

    We also have a Open Access WiFi channel, so learners and staff can bring in their own devices and not have to reconfigure them in order to hook-up to our Internet system. This also goes for guests – they can locate and join the Open WiFi – then all we have to do is give them a sessional User ID & Password, so they can connect to the Internet with the minimum of fuss. Very much like the ‘Starbucks’, ‘BT Openzone’, ‘Virgin Trains’ systems.

    Our MoLeNET Phase3 project funding enabled us to install this sophisticated system – but it is not *that* expensive really. We’re using it to enable a flexible, mobile and sustainable IT model.

  4. colhawksworth Says:

    Any organizational department has the potential to be an IPD and It’s not always the activity of the ‘department’ that is at fault. More often than not, it is the people in the organization that create and allow IPDs to occur. People use technology for many purposes and they expect just as many different outcomes from their technology – which is also the same tech that everyone else is sharing. All too often, it’s the technical department that is automatically perceived as the IPD in education.

    Unfortunately those working in technical IT jobs do tend to be more solitary characters and less likely to be ‘people’ people. In many academic institutions the technical services department can be likened to ‘Oompa Loompas’ in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory – Where “no one ever goes in and no one ever comes out” of the IT Department.

    I’m not automatically defending every technical department because I’m sure there are many who are the organizational IPD. However, as fellow professionals we do have to maintain a professional level of service, which unfortunately has to adhere to many laws and regulations which don’t seem to make sense, especially to educators (I don’t understand most of them!).

    In my primary role as Computer Services Manager in a UK college, I have to balance out the IT demands of Users who present varied needs and expectations – academic staff, support staff, learners, community users, visitors.

    I’ve always encouraged and expected the technicians who work in the department I manage, to be innovative and creative. After all – they’re intelligent adults and professionals. I’m convinced this pays off. Technical staff feel more valued in the roles they perform and are more motivated in their work. They also understand the needs of other people a little better if they are involved in decision making processes.

    During the last few years I’ve moved more into the realms of eLearning and have been rubbing shoulders with a lot of very interesting and innovative people at conferences and events. I do understand the desires of academic staff to be able to utilize technology without barriers – and I too would be annoyed if I couldn’t fully utilize the technology I have at my disposal. I’m all for open and equal access to technology and learning – but I do also have to implement some kind of security and logging (UK Law dictates this)

    Not too sure where I’m going with this comment now – it’s late and I had to rewrite this because WordPress freaked and deleted my original comments just as I posted it. (is WordPress part of the new world order IPD?)

    I think what I’m trying to say is – we (in our own job roles and departments) don’t always have a realistic insight into the roles of other departments – when we get frustrated with something, it is easy to blame others rather than think of an alternative. So – I see both arguments for and against technical boundaries.

    Coming back to David’s questions – We are *all* here for teaching and learning and we are all play important roles. 🙂

  5. loujak78 Says:

    As someone working in a department that often acts as a bridge between academic staff and IT staff (eLearning) I see this problem quite often. However I have put some proactive processes in place (where I have had enough authority) in the college where I work.
    My current team (which is subject to change following the merger of my college with 2 others!) is one that works effectively to bring together the technical and the curriculum and encourage individuals on both sides to be innovative and creative. The roles within the team include: VLE technical management (formally with MIS), Multimedia and Assistive Technology Technicians (formally ‘AV’ with IT / IPD!) and Trainers as well as departmental based Mentors who are curriculum staff with some teaching remission.
    Proactively I manage which web sites individual have access to (as I have both a curriculum and technical background / experience) and encourage my technicians to maintain technology on an ongoing basis so that it ‘shouldn’t’ become a critical incident that could disenfranchise teachers and/or learners.
    A technique I do employ is to allow my team members to manage their own time, where possible, and encourage them to spend some time on their own creative and sometimes wacky / off the wall ideas (a bit like Google’s 10% time) – which often results in fantastic developments that really help both teachers and students. Ultimately resulting in a team that remains motivated, innovative and creative and much less likely to stagnate – something that I think is positive for the organisation.

    • armaitus Says:

      The “Google Day” (as we call it) is a fantastic idea – although we can usually only spare a few hours on a Friday afternoon.

    • dsugden Says:

      Thanks for this Louise. Perhaps you could/should (have?) blog about this yourself?

      Excellent practice should be spread as widely as possible. I’m aware of other good practices you have instigated too – please don’t be shy. Our sector needs more like you.


  6. Ben Sugden Says:

    A controversial, yet understandable viewpoint. As the head of a similar body outside of academia, I feel experienced (but not qualified) enough to respond on behalf (yet not in defense) of the seemingly “jobs-worth” IPD specialists out there.

    I would like to say that such things as: budget, personnel resource and time can have an impact in just how much “maintenance” can be achieved by an IPD team, let alone how much innovation can be supported.

    I would also like to speak out for the IPD team and the struggle they have balancing their perceived role in the eyes of the end user (Supporting the teachers and learners) against the perceived role of their direct superiors (Minimizing cost, keeping teachers and learners quiet).

    Unfortunately to do either of those things would be to avoid mentioning what I see as the key factors that turn your ICT/IT/IS departments into the IPD: Attitude, Process, Negotiation and Understanding.

    Attitude: IPDs exist due to the poor attitude of their team members; attitude can stagnate over time. Information technology is an innovative and dynamic field. A constantly moving industry, I can see how many would find it hard to understand how any IT professional could stagnate – but it happens.

    Attitude is the first casualty in a process that is sadly self de-motivating. It starts slowly but the change can be quite sudden; the once bright eyed bucket of keen becomes a jaded enemy of the “end user”; (l)users making any simple technical request become as bad as the bean-counters who refused the budget for the new NAS.

    I have come across these people throughout my career, they are a bane to innovation. Work-shy nay-sayers who spread their apathy like a plague.

    Process: Most operational entities (in business, academia or otherwise) suffer from a lack of well thought out and documented processes. Furthermore, the processes that are in place have usually been created outside of the department they effect or have not been kept up to date. From the outside I think academia suffers more of the former – processes being dictated by people have very little understanding of the technical, logistical or legal impact of the process they are implementing.

    My partner works at a college as a tutor & assessor; she was told recently that she could not log onto a PC with a different user name and password because it was against the “Data Protection Act” – this by the College’s Head of ICT. Now it may well be that the college has its own data access policy but the self same policy should have a process listed to allow for circumstances where a student needs to be logged onto an alternate PC.

    With operational processes created, maintained, shared and utilized then the IPD should have no problem accounting for day to day issues like: projector maintenance, internet access requests, password resets.

    Negotiation: IPDs lack either the skill or the will to negotiate. This hinders them when dictated to from above and prevents them fulfilling a supporting role to the rest of us.

    A functional IT/ICT/IS department will question dictates from above and either add value or inspire innovation. The IPD struggles to do so. If a new task from above threatens to jeopardize something that I am working on for the benefit of those I support then I pass the task back to the Board and we discuss how we can achieve both goals.

    A functional IT/ICT/IS department will look into alternate means for support rather than stop at the first hurdle. A year ago I visited the EMEA head office for “Research In Motion” the people behind BlackBerry. I was attending a 4 day training course, during which time we were restricted from accessing certain internet sites relevant to the course. When this became a problem, the course leader spoke to the IT Support Team and negotiated access. Access was granted.

    Understanding: The IPD refuses to understand the position of those it supports. They either don’t know or don’t care that you have a 4 hour presentation to give. If the members of the IPD were to put themselves in your position then they would be more likely to consider that unpolished bulb.

    Overall it can be a struggle to maintain a functional IT/ICT/IS department but that does not justify the existence of IPDs. From my point of view, as a corporate IT Manager, the IPD is more often than not the accounting department. The current economic climate makes it difficult to get the budget I need to provide a status quo; yet ironically, with a larger budget I could provide the innovation that will bring an increase in wealth.

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